Ferguson is a mess. If journalists can be arrested for no reason whatsoever, (hauled out of a McDonald’s, with their press credentials clearly visible) just imagine how average citizens of Ferguson are being treated.
Mistrust is at the heart of all that is happening there. Police are unwilling to answer even the most basic questions about the Michael Brown case. Only three of Ferguson’s 50-plus police officers are African-American. Seventy-percent of the population is African-American. You do the math.
Yes, the police do have a higher burden on them…to act responsibly, to de-escalate tensions whenever they can. Why can’t the police understand that their failure to release the officer’s name makes every officer, in riot gear, look like an accomplice? Why can’t the police understand that the very presence of these SWAT teams are escalating the problem? There’s no reason for a SWAT team member to aim rifles into a peaceful crowd, or to point it at the chest of a journalist. (Both happened yesterday…)
Yesterday was a day of peaceful protests in Ferguson. It was a de-escalation on the part of the citizens there. The police could have responded in kind, by de-escalating the scope of their SWAT-like response. They did not do this.
So, yes, there’s a racial component to what’s happening in Ferguson. But everything happening there is greatly exacerbated by the militarization of local police. First, the federal government gave grants to fight the “War on Drugs.” Then, they gave grants to fight the “War on Terror.” Police forces in peaceful suburbs now routinely train and use SWAT-style weapons for the hordes of Islamic terrorists descending upon them (turn your sarcasm detectors on).
I point you toward this excellent summary from Newsweek. Here’s the golden nugget in this story, which makes the point I am trying to make here:
“Given the proliferation of military weapons and military training among America’s police departments, the use of military force and military tactics is not surprising. When your only tool is a hammer, after all, every problem looks like a nail.”
I point to these two additional resources. First, this report from the progressive ACLU. Then, a similar report from the conservative Cato Institute.
The militarization of local police in America brings fear to everyone. It’s a big part of what’s driving the fear of African-Americans on the streets of Ferguson. However, it’s also a big part of what drives the fear of White people espousing “Open Carry” here in Texas. Militarized police raise fear and anxiety in a cross-racial way.
The hostility and anger on all sides is palpable. Here’s an excellent essay from Salon, on the entire situation, that focuses on Black Anger:
“Nothing makes white people more uncomfortable than black anger. But nothing is more threatening to black people on a systemic level than white anger. It won’t show up in mass killings. It will show up in overpolicing, mass incarceration, the gutting of the social safety net, and the occasional dead black kid. Of late, though, these killings have been far more than occasional. We should sit up and pay attention to where this trail of black bodies leads us. They are a compass pointing us to a raging fire just beneath the surface of our national consciousness. We feel it. We hear it. Our nostrils flare with the smell of it.”
Ferguson is not Baghdad. It’s not even Cairo. Our citizens have rights. Our police have responsibilities. The police have made many tactical mistakes in these past few days.
And, most importantly, our citizens are not nails to be pounded by a SWAT-team hammer.